Name Your Change: The First Step
From the moment we take our first breath until we take our last, our lives are full of change.
Some of the changes we experience are events we plan for: a move, job promotion, career shift, retirement, marriage. Others are changes that happen to us, like the end of a relationship we didn’t see coming, the death of a loved one, an unexpected health crisis. And still others are events that never happened filling us with sadness or regret: a missed opportunity, an unfulfilled dream, a close relationship that failed to develop.
Maybe you’re in a change right now. For instance, a friend of mine is losing a job. A change in the White House has created a significant impact in the lives of many women I know. Another friend recently lost a beloved pet. Another acquaintance is still processing the retirement experienced several years ago.
What’s your change?
It doesn’t matter what the change is. If it’s affecting the quality of your life–like losing sleep, feeling anxious, near constant rumination, a lot of negative self-talk–it’s significant. And when it’s significant, it becomes a transition.
Leia Francisco is a transition expert who has written, coached, and held workshops on the management of transitions. Leia explains the difference between a change and a transition as this:
Change is the event that interrupts your life in some way. How you react to the change is the process called transition…The term ‘transition‘ as I am using it means a reaction to a change in role, relationship, situation, or life view significant enough to affect your life and functioning. These changes may be perceived as positive, negative, or a mixture of both.
For example, a change would be an event like this, “We downsized from our two-story family home into a condo.” But your reaction is this: “I’m missing my old home, the place where I raised children and where our two dogs are buried.” So, there’s been a change in a life situation, and the “missing” is the reaction to that change, or the transition.
Even though the change might have been a good one or necessary, how it affects you is key to whether it just stays an event or becomes a transition.
Why Worry About Transitions
You may be thinking, “My life has been full of transitions, a real roller coaster. Isn’t this just a normal part of life?”
And the short answer is yes, transitions and changes are a part of life. In fact, I’ve modified the expression, “Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes,” to:
Nothing is certain in life but death, taxes, and change!
And reacting to a change is also a normal way responding to it in order to make sense of it. But if we just continue to ruminate on it, or continually vent to our friends and family about it, or sweep it under a rug and pretend it doesn’t matter, the transition simmers and smolders, eventually affecting our mental and physical health.
As one woman said recently about life changes, what we don’t deal with in our 20s follows us into our 30s, becomes baggage in our 40s, which we lug into our 50s and so on. And the danger of this is that it wears us down, or we boil over. Neither option is a good one!
What to do about the change and transition
Regardless of the change you might be experiencing now or have experienced in the past or anticipating in the not too distant future, there are tools, techniques, strategies that can help you navigate the change regardless of the event itself.
One of the very first things you can do is to name the change. As a Chinese proverb says:
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.
Instead of the change just being an amorphous or abstract “elephant in the room,” calling it out and giving it a name validates it, gives it that “right” name.
This naming of the change doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be clear and concise: like “The New Home,” “The New Job,” “Me and Diabetes,” or even just “Retirement.”
Or it can be more creative: “Hot Flash City” (onset of menopause),”Adios Marriage” (divorce), or “Season of My Discontent” (a gradual realization of work unhappiness).
Writing prompts can help define and name the change
Leia says in her book Writing Through Transitions:
Writing your responses to a transition will help you get more from that journey that simply thinking about the transition. (emphasis mine)
Because writing can give you insight and support, writing even about what to name your change can be a great place to start. And I’ve got a few to get you started.
When journaling to these journal prompts remember that you are writing for your eyes only, and that there are no rules. No need to worry about grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and so on. In fact, you might just flow between one prompt then to the next without thinking too much about what’s coming up on the page. Just keep writing.
- Describe the change with the “who, what, when, where, why” questions.
- If the change could be an animal, or vegetable, or flower what would it be? Why?
- Who else, besides yourself, has been or will be affected by the change?
- What feelings do you have about the change?
Lastly, read through your writing, noticing what you notice. You might even take another colored pen or pencil and circle words that seem to resonate. Look over the words you circled. Is a name for your change emerging? Remember, it doesn’t have to be complex, and sometimes we just might discover a bit of good-natured humor in our naming as well.
What’s the name of your change? Feel free to comment below. And if you’re ready to go deeper on working through a transition, check out the next offering of my signature course Caterpillar to Butterfly: The Power of Writing Through Change. It’s a 5 week virtual, self-paced course. Details here.
I’d love to hear your experience with the prompts, your transitions, or whatever else might be on your mind about change.